Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Since its first publication in Paris in 1959, Naked Lunch has received both praise and censure. While noted authors and critics such as John Ciardi, Norman Mailer, and Mary McCarthy have applauded Naked Lunch as a novel of genius and terrible beauty, its publication in the United States in 1962 was met with seizure by the U.S. Postal Service and U.S. Customs on the grounds it was pornographic. Naked Lunch was found to be obscene by a Massachusetts Superior Court in 1965, a decision that was later overturned by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Naked Lunch is a disjointed account of the horrors of a junkie’s addiction, withdrawal, and cure. William Burroughs, one of the original Beat writers, arrived in Tangier, Morocco, in 1953, after spending months in the jungles of South America in search of the hallucinogenic plant Yage. At that time Burroughs was heavily addicted to narcotics such as morphine and codeine. He was perhaps drawn to Tangier because of its reputation as a zone of permissiveness where drugs were plentiful and expenses were low. Tangier was an International Zone, where there was unregulated free enterprise. It was also known to expatriate writers and artists as a sanctuary where they could live without being scrutinized by the authorities. Once settled in Tangier, Burroughs tried to write, but his drug addiction made that process both painful and difficult. As he attempted various cures, his writing slowly progressed. The novel that began to develop would be a narrative based on his addiction and withdrawal and his impressions of Tangier.

Burroughs first compiled a large volume of notes, which contained his travel and drug experiences, hallucinations, dreams, and satirical fantasies about American society. To complete the manuscript, Burroughs had to face his addiction and undergo...

(The entire section is 759 words.)